Violet's Mail Order Husband (Montana Brides #1)Kate Whitsby
Violet’s Mail Order Husband
Montana Brides: Book 1
Copyright © 2014 by Kate Whitsby
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This is a work of fiction. All characters, names, places and events are the product of the author's imagination or used fictitiously.
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“You know I don’t approve of your mail-order husband idea, Violet.” Cornell Pollard shuffled the papers on his desk and bristled his eyebrows over the top of his spectacles.
Violet Kilburn lounged her long, slender body on a divan across the room, her brown eyes gazing out the library window at nothing in particular. Rocking Horse Ranch spread out before her, but she didn’t take much notice of it. Her thoughts wandered elsewhere. “Yes, I know you don’t approve, Cornell. You’ve only told me about a thousand times.” She touched her straight auburn hair, put up in curls on top of her head, but didn’t adjust it.
“Whatever possessed you to get a mail-order husband, I’ll never understand.” Cornell laid down one paper and picked up another. “You know, I have young men in mind for you and your sisters, young men who will suit you better than perfect strangers.”
“Yes, I know you have young men in mind for us,” Violet returned. “That’s precisely why we chose to get mail-order husbands. We want to marry men of our own choosing. Surely that’s not too difficult for you to understand.”
“I understand it,” Cornell replied. “I just don’t think it’s a very wise policy. For one thing, you aren’t marrying men of your own choosing. You’re marrying strangers picked out of a hat. You have no notion of these men’s true motive. They might be marrying you for your fortune. Did you ever consider that?”
“Marrying us for our fortune?” Violet repeated. “You mean, like the men you have picked out for us? I can guarantee they would be marrying us for our fortune and nothing else. Of that I am quite certain.”
Cornell’s head shot up and he gaped at Violet. “What has gotten into you, child? I’ve never seen you so petulant before.”
Violet scowled at him from her couch. “I’m not a child, Cornell. I’m twenty-three years old, and I want to get married. That’s all you need to know about it.”
“You’ve never acted like this before,” Cornell exclaimed. “You’ve always been so sensible about things in the past. I worry you’ve quite taken leave of your senses.”
“I haven’t taken leave of my senses just because I won’t do what you want me to do.” Violet turned back to the window. “If I’ve been so sensible in the past, you should trust me not to do anything foolish now. I know what I’m doing, and there’s nothing you can say to convince me otherwise.”
“I only want what’s best for you and your sisters, my dear.” Cornell’s voice took on the pleading whine of an old man with no other weapons in his arsenal. “You’re my nieces and my wards, and I only want to see you happily married to men who will do you credit. I hate to think of you married to some rude cowboys with no refinement or breeding.”
Violet sighed. “I understand you want what’s best for us, Cornell. But there’s no point in arguing about it anymore. My sisters and I will drive down to the train station in Butte to pick the men up off the train today. The deed is done, and you can’t undo it by pestering me about it. So I would appreciate it if you would drop the whole subject.”
“I don’t know if I can do that,” Cornell told her.
“You better do it,” Violet snapped. “Because my sisters and I agree that we won’t stand for you harassing these men once they arrive. If you can’t accept the situation for what it is, then keep quiet.”
Cornell stared at her. Then he shook his head and sighed down at his papers. “I don’t believe I’m hearing this from you, Violet. I just don’t believe it.”
“Believe it.” Violet compressed her lips and kept her eyes fixed on the scene outside the window.
The sunshine of early spring blazed down on the range outside. The green grass disappeared before the viewer’s eyes into the purple and blue of the horizon. A gust of wind sent ripples through the grass.
A split rail fence separated the yard in front of the ranch house from the open range beyond. A herd of cattle ambled by on the other side of the fence, and two or three figures on horseback rode among them and around them. They swung whips above their heads to keep the cattle moving, and a few scruffy dogs ran around barking at the cows’ heels. Even through the window, Violet heard the shouts and whistles of the cattle punchers urging the animals forward.
Violet spotted one of the riders veer off and steer toward the fence. The figure swung down from the saddle, tied the horse to the fence, and climbed over it. Then the lanky rider strode across the yard toward the house.
What was the point of wasting her breath trying to convince Cornell of anything? Heaven knew she’d spent the better part of her life in the futile attempt. He never listened to anything from anyone. He only cared for his own opinion.
She hadn’t relished the idea of contravening his desires by marrying a mail-order husband. She’d spent her life trying to please him. After her parents died, Cornell took over the management of Rocking Horse Ranch as well as the guardianship of Violet and her sisters. So Violet always treated him as a third parent. She never questioned his motives or his competence at handling their affairs.
But when he decided to arrange their marriages, Violet began to question her loyalty to Cornell. When she discussed the matter with her sisters, they agreed they wouldn’t allow Cornell to determine the rest of their lives.
Violet heard a door slam somewhere in another part of the house, and the next moment, the library door opened, and a young woman entered. Her blonde hair hung free around her face, and her sun-kissed cheeks glowed with the flush of activity. Violet exchanged a knowing smile with her middle sister.
Iris Kilburn wore beaten canvas trousers, a buckskin jacket fringed up the sleeves, and rawhide chaps down her legs. She didn’t notice her tattered work boots leaving dusty footprints on the carpet. She carried a crumpled felt hat in hands covered by worn leather gloves,
Cornell glared at her. “Honestly, Iris, I’ve asked you to change out of your work clothes before you come into the house. Look, you’re getting dust all over the place.”
; “I didn’t change my clothes because I’m going right back out,” Iris replied. “I only came in to ask Violet when she wants to leave for Butte. I’ll change my clothes before we leave.”
“You’ll change your clothes before you leave for Butte,” Cornell shot back. “But you won’t change your clothes to keep the house clean.”
“That’s right,” Iris replied. “When do you want to leave, Violet?”
“As soon as you’re finished working,” Violet replied. “I’m waiting for you. We should leave as soon as possible. We have to get to the train station in time to pick up the men and get home before dark. That doesn’t give us much time.”
“Is Rose ready to go?” Iris asked.
“As far as I know, she is.” Violet looked around as if l searching for their youngest sister. “I haven’t seen her yet this morning.”
“All right.” Iris headed back toward the door. “You hunt up Rose, and I’ll put my horse away and change. Then we can leave.”
“I suppose you’re champing at the bit to get a mail-order husband, are you, Iris?” Cornell scoffed. “I didn’t know you’d suddenly taken such an interest in men.”
“I haven’t taken a sudden interest in men,” Iris replied. “Does it surprise you to learn that I’ve been interested in men all along? Well, I have. But I think Violet’s plan for us to get mail-order husbands is a sensible one, and I’m willing to go along with it.”
“And what exactly do you think is sensible about it?” Cornell asked.
“I’ve told you a million times, Cornell,” Iris answered. “This ranch desperately needs men—and not the kind of men you’d pick for us. The ranch doesn’t need any graduates of Eastern universities with specialties in politics or literature. It doesn’t need the sons of railroad magnates or shipping tycoons. What this ranch needs—and badly—are cowboys. We need men who know how to work cattle and run a cattle ranch. That’s what we need, and that’s what we got. That’s why I think it’s sensible.”
“This ranch doesn’t need any more cowboys than it already has,” Cornell argued. “We have Pete Kershaw and Wade Jackson. What else do we need? They do a good job, and the ranch is running fine. We don’t need any cowboys.”
“Pete is fifty, and Wade is pushing sixty,” Iris shot back. “They can barely do the work now, and they’ll only weaken further as they age.”
“Nonsense!” Cornell spluttered. “You’re exaggerating again, Iris.”
“I’ve explained this to you so many times,” Iris went on. “And you’ve ignored me and told me I’m a silly girl who should stick to my knitting. So I’m not going to waste my time going through it again. If you don’t understand by now why we need cowboys, then you aren’t going to understand it. I’ve given up on trying to convince you.”
“I’ll be the one to decide what this ranch needs,” Cornell growled. “I know what goes on around this ranch a lot better than you do, Iris. You’re a twenty-year-old girl with a lot of fanciful ideas that don’t measure up on the ground. You would do well to leave the management of this ranch to me.”
“I know your opinion perfectly well,” Iris replied. “And right now, I have better things to do than argue with you about it. I’m going out to put my horse away. Then I’ll change my clothes. Violet, you find Rose. By the time I finish changing, we should all be ready to go.”
“Good,” Violet exclaimed. “I’ll get Rose. By the way, Iris, while you’re out there, could you ask Pete to get the buggy hitched up for us? And we’ll need three horses saddled for the men to ride home.”
“I’ll tell him.” Iris disappeared out the door.
Cornell scowled at the door after she left. “That sister of yours will never make any man a good wife. She’s too headstrong, and she doesn’t understand a woman’s role in the family. Look at her! She even has the temerity to wear pants! No man will put up with that. Whoever you got to be her mail-order husband will want her to stay at home and wear a dress the way a woman should.”
“You don’t know what Iris is made of,” Violet told him. “You don’t know what she does around here, or how valuable she is to this ranch.”
“Oh, really?” Cornell asked. “Tell me, then. Tell me what she does, and what her value is to this ranch.”
“I would, but she doesn’t want me to.” Violet sat up on her divan. “She’s sworn me and Rose to secrecy. And that should give you some idea of how deeply you’ve hurt her with your comments about her clothes and her interest in men. You should be ashamed of yourself for treating her so badly.”
“Ashamed of myself?” Cornell scoffed. “Treating her badly? I never did! I’ve never treated any of you girls badly in your lives. I’ve worked from dawn ‘til dusk to make your lives as pleasant as possible, and this is the thanks I get for it!”
“If you really wanted to do the best for us,” Violet declared. “You would listen to what we have to say. You might learn something you never thought you needed to know. Some of us know things even you don’t, Cornell—especially Iris. And look, you’re so pig-headed about things that poor little Rose won’t even say a word to contradict you. She’s that afraid of offending you.”
“Pig-headed, am I?” Cornell fumed. “Since when am I pig-headed?”
“All the time,” Violet shot back. “You won’t listen to a word from anyone else. You won’t take advice on what’s going on with the ranch or what we need to do from Iris or anyone else. It’s Cornell or nothing around here.”
Cornell pulled his head down between his shoulders. “I should say it is Cornell or nothing around here. I’m your guardian and the executor of your estate. I’m responsible for administering the Kilburn family fortune. I would be remiss in my duty if I did take advice from a little whip of a girl on how to run this ranch.”
“You think all three of us are nothing more than little whips of girls,” Violet remarked. “And to you, that’s all we’ll ever be. Well, one of these days, Cornell, you’re going to wake up and realize just how wrong you are.”
Cornell let his hands and his papers fall onto the desk in front of him. He stared at Violet. “What has gotten into you, Violet? You’ve always deferred to me in the past. You’ve always encouraged your sisters to follow my direction and my vision for the ranch. I don’t understand what has induced you to attack me so blatantly now.”
“I’ve always backed you before, Cornell,” Violet agreed. “And now I’m not. I guess there’s a first time for everything.”
“But why?” Cornell asked. “Why now?”
Violet stood up and smoothed down the skirts of her dark brown dress. “I don’t have time to discuss this any further right now. If you’re still up when we get back from Butte, we can talk again then. But I’m telling you for the last time, Cornell, we won’t discuss it in front of the men.”
“But, Violet….” Cornell began.
Violet interrupted him. “And I’ll tell you something else, Cornell. We won’t discuss the advisability of my sisters and me marrying mail-order husbands at all after the marriage service on Friday. Once we marry these men, you aren’t to bring it up again—ever! Do you understand me?”
“But, Violet….” Cornell whimpered.
“I’m leaving now, Cornell. I’ll see you for supper this evening. We should be back from Butte by then.” Violet swept out of the room and slammed the door behind her.
Violet leaned her back against the wall in the passage just outside the library, her heart racing and her breath coming out in gasps. She’d never stood up to Cornell before or spoken to him in such an insolent manner.
She could only pray he’d be too shocked by her defiance to retaliate. No one could hold a grudge or repay it with more vindictive cruelty than Cornell Pollard. He acted defeated now, but he held all the purse strings on the sisters’ lives.
He had the legal power and the financial interest, not to mention the vengeful spite, to disinherit all three of them for marrying without his permission. Violet cert
ainly saw him do as bad, or worse, enough times in the past.
But she didn’t have time to wait until she recovered. She hurried along the passage to the foot of the stairs to fetch her youngest sister, Rose. But she spotted Iris coming the other direction from the kitchen, still wearing her work clothes.
“I’m just on my way up to change,” Iris told her.
Violet laughed. “What’s the matter? Don’t you want your fiancé to see you in your work clothes?”
Iris threw her hair back out of her eyes. “If he can’t handle this, he won’t be able to handle anything else about me. But he doesn’t need to find out the sordid details when he lays eyes on me for the first time at the train station, does he?”
“Are you going to save that for your wedding night?” Violet asked.
Iris tilted her head to one side. “I don’t know how I’ll break it to him, but I’ll have to do it gently and gradually. I don’t think any man could understand the work I’ve done around here.”
“I agree with you,” Violet replied. “Cornell especially would probably lose his mind if he ever found out you were running the ranch behind his back. He knows you ride out with Pete and Wade, but he doesn’t know you’ve been overriding all his instructions and making your own instead.”
“We would all be out on the street, including Cornell, if I hadn’t,” Iris shot back.
“I understand that,” Violet assured her. “But I think you’ve done the right thing keeping your activities a secret. You would probably do well to keep it a secret from your new husband, too.”
Iris sighed. “I know you’re right. Anyway, once the men get here and we all get married, they’ll probably start running the ranch their own way. Then it won’t matter what I did before they came. I might stop riding out with the cowboys altogether.”
Violet smiled. “Somehow I doubt that. I don’t see you giving up the reins so easily.”
“I might have to,” Iris pointed out. “If my new husband thinks I should stay home and mind the house, I’ll have to do what he says, won’t I?”
“Let’s just hope that doesn’t happen,” Violet replied. “Let’s hope all three of these men understand why you had to take over the ranch and are as grateful to you for what you’ve done as Rose and I are. If that happens, your mail-order husband will probably be glad to have you ride out and do the same work you’re doing now.”